Please post your blogs here for Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers.


17 thoughts on “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

  1. In the 1990’s I majored in journalism at CCAC. Besides using poetry as a way to vent, journalism was my first main love. So, reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers, I was immediately struck by Boo’s investigative journalistic style of writing. I was able to understand her style on a deeper level than I feel I have been able to express with my other blogs, particularly regarding various elements of craft that dominate this book. Go me!
    Journalism offers a few methods of reporting. One method is the “inverted pyramid,” which offers the most important information (who, what, where, when, how) in the first few paragraphs. This is usually used for your common, garden-variety news article. She is definitely not using this method to tell this story over the long haul.
    She is immersed in this telling, in her subjects, gaining facts and doing research to tell a more nuanced and fuller story about the opposing poverty and wealth in a Mumbai slum. She starts with a person, in scene, to set up the bigger issues she is going to report on throughout the book, which is a popular formula of investigative journalists. This “Wall Street Journal” formula brings a big, broad issue to the reader by using an individual and human component to keep the reader interested in the outcome of how the issue is affecting individuals. This is an important component because the reporting can’t get too cut and dry or interest will wane. And, as she started with an individual, she also ends with an individual, the human component.
    Her writing is detailed. I felt like I was viewing the big hotel from the dirt-littered slums.
    I feel she was successful in portraying this topic without crossing the invisible line between objectivity and subjectivity because she wrote as a more impersonal narrator. This does not mean that the reader doesn’t feel for the characters in the book. It just means she was able to keep an objective distance as an investigative journalist.
    However, despite her impartial voice, her motives are clear: to bring attention to the disparity between wealth and poverty in a 3rd world country. This contrast first came to life for me on page xvi when she described the difference between a sheet wall and a metal scrap wall made of aluminum to separate dwellings as a marker of a higher class within the slum.
    Concurrently, in my reading, I noticed Boo uses a “compare and contrast” technique within the broader reporting method to enrich her other elements, and to stay within journalistic objectivity, as well as using other narrative techniques more associated with fiction, such as pertinent and sustained dialogue, vivid scene, and place.
    Her descriptions of place are absolutely powerful. She is able to ground the reader on the streets of Mumbai, in the garbage lakes, with boys huddled together (“my foot in his mouth, her foot in my mouth,” page 9).
    She captures the conversations of the residents with dialogue that is not wasted. Coupled with her vivid descriptions, the dialogue gives more dimensions and context to the characters that inhabit the slum and the issues brought forth in the book.
    Another craft element is the focus on a certain period of time. This is a well-researched story. Compiling her research did not happen quickly. She uses a combination of structure elements to give the reader a fuller story. Some of the writing is done chronologically; for instance, we follow Abdul from beginning to end and watch his story unfold, watch his character move through hardships. But, she also uses flashback in the narrative, as well as chronological sequencing in some places. The processes that result from conflict and tension (arguments and hopes of the characters) are also used as a strong structure of this book.
    She made Poverty a character. I was continuously struck by how the recycling, the garbage, the filth, was portrayed as just another day in the life of these residents; it lived alongside them, it breathed along with them.
    This blog is well over 500 words. But I just want to say a few things more.
    Questions I plan to ask:
    1. I would argue that you used the Wall Street Journal formula for this book. I want to know why you chose this style over the others;
    2. I would argue this story is without an arc. It is just made to tell the story of life, death, and hope?
    a. No appendix;
    b. No epilogue;
    c. No happy endings;
    d. Was this deliberate, to show the cycle of poverty having no end because the power structure does not want it to end?
    3. I could be wrong. I feel that it is in much the same place as it started. We leave the story (in a sense) right at the same place we began, with a new child having to scrap recyclables to survive. Was this the point, to just tell the story and bring this sad and heartbreaking awareness?
    4. How did you navigate between impartial journalistic reporting and the empathetic context of the content?
    5. As you were writing, did you realize that the poverty of this slum and this place became a living, breathing character along with Abdul and Sunil? Was this planned?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good analysis, Holly. I wonder if this really is in the “Wall Street Journal” format…wouldn’t that work for an essay? I wonder how it works for a book?

      On some level you may be right about a general arc, but how about arcs for the individuals in the books? Yes, she is following their lives, but I would suggest their lives do have an arc of some sort, just as ours do. Just depends on where you begin and where you choose to end. Good questions overall, though. I hope you do ask some of them.


  2. I’m sure this topic will be a hot one this week: Boo’s voice and style.

    As I worked through Behind the Beautiful Forevers, I felt like I must have been reading fiction. The detail was so vivid and immediate; I’ve never encountered that in nonfiction before. I was struck by it throughout the book, but I’m talking specifically about moments like:
    “Ashamed and in debt, some farmers killed themselves – an old story, one of the Marathi-movie staples. But the movie reel was still playing. In the new century, the government counted an average of a thousand farmer suicides a year in Vidarbha; activists counted many more” (137). Admittedly, the book is full of passages like this one, but this stood out to me for how many moves it makes in such a small space.

    Here, Boo takes research and pulls it into her own voice. Her style slips through, “the movie reel was still playing” and the semicolon connecting “activists counted many more.” What she conveys, though, is objective. It is unclear in the moment if the information she shares is from research or her own time spent in Annawadi – perhaps both. This doesn’t matter much, as Boo blends information in with her recounting. There is almost an omniscience in her tone here. Readers see so many people, hear so many voices, that it is easy to forget that Boo was there for all of this. There is so much attention to detail, in both her descriptions and her more informative moments, that it’s easy to believe she simply filled in the gaps. For most of the book, I wondered if this was true. Descriptions of surroundings and poignant, specific moments, such as when she describes in great detail a leaf falling in front of Abdul, make it hard to believe Boo could have known all of these details to be factual (243).

    I questioned this when she revealed what people were thinking, such as Chapter 6, when Zehrunisia and Karam are renovating their home. Their worries about their children are something they share with Boo as she quotes Zehrunisia, “I despair because he has no brains – eighth grade and can’t write the number 8. But he works hard. Like Abdul, not afraid of labor” (84). For some reason, this was the point at which I realize Boo must have been spoken to, but she simply removed herself. This is a choice I really understand and admire because I don’t know if I would be capable of it. Boo relays what she is told and makes herself a fly on the wall, taking us with her. I don’t quite know what to make of this style. I think it makes the book move quickly because it reads like a novel. It certainly removes the question of “what is Boo doing telling someone else’s story?” She is simply reporting and doing it expertly.

    The author’s note did a lot to answer my questions about Boo’s perspective, or lack thereof. I got the impression that her removal of her own voice was important for her and for what her initial conception of the book was. It was out of acknowledgment for her position as an outsider that she wanted to present the truth of an often-distorted place and people.

    Some questions I might bring up during the Q&A:
    1. Was limiting your presence in the book a choice you made or part of your journalistic training?
    2. Do you think including yourself as a character more would have helped tell any part of the story?
    3. Did you find yourself putting your own opinions into the book and then removing them to preserve objectivity? Was adopting a more neutral voice a struggle at any point?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good questions, Rachel! I wonder if the most successful nonfiction books are ones that manage to find a narrative thread and bring the events alive using fictional techniques. If one is just reporting everything without trying to shape it a bit, we might get lost.

      She could have chosen to include herself more; there are certainly authors who have done so in this kind of nonfiction–I’m thinking, for example, of Paul Theroux for one. She must have really felt that the focus should be on those whose situation she is revealing. A good question to ask her, though.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I believe this is the first time I’ve read a book like Behind the Beautiful Forevers. The description on the book’s website calls it “narrative nonfiction,” but it could be put it in the realm of creative literary journalism, too. Throughout this book, Katherine Boo does uses an objective voice and removes herself from the narrative – leaving her powerful descriptions of place, characterization of the young people in the Annawadi settlement, and the use of disparity throughout the separate stories to come to the forefront. Considering this is the first time I had encountered a story like this, I was confused at first with the jumping around to all the different characters, though Abdul and his family are more centralized. However, as I moved through the book, the separate stories all flowed into a collective vignette of this sliver of India, highlighting the boundaries between poverty and mass wealth.
    First thinking about the ways that Boo illustrates these boundaries and barriers, she opens with the cardboard barriers between huts in the prologue. This continues throughout the text, using these items as a further analogy between the class inequality. Even between these huts in Annawadi, the people are creating their own boundaries, hoping to distinguish themselves from the “othered.” Though this is explicitly shown through the events that are outlined, whether it be Kalu’s death, Manju’s education, or the central conflict of the wall between Fatma and the Husains, Boo’s focus on the physical boundaries create a complex mirror of the social and political structures that also forge barriers. This is also seen when Sunil is on the roof, looking out over to the hotels. By focusing in on the description of the view, there is a moment of “clarity” in which Sunil is seeing over these very boundaries between classes.
    Boo’s use of place is also powerful in how she describes many scenes and places with a brutal, violent tone and language. When she zooms in on a specific area, she is drawing attention to the way in which the place is producing the violence and death in Annawadi. On page 124, she describes the rain as “stinging.” On page 106, the sky is painted as “maidan purple as a bruise.” This use of the natural world as narrative is a way to comment on the cycle of these events, as well. One of the most powerful scenes for me was at the end of Chapter 11, where Sunil returns to the place where Kalu had died, and sees that the flowers have overgrown without a remanence of death. Though not explicit reflection, Boo uses this image as a reminder that these events are all cyclical, birthed by the very political and socio-economic injustices that put these characters in Annawadi.
    I also thought that Boo’s crafting of contrasts in the text worked well to further imply a consistent dichotomy of the Hyatt and Annawadi. The descriptions of Annawadi are often seeped in sensory details, highlighting smell and texture. We often see the Hyatt through the light surrounding the area, the noise of the elaborate parties and people. There are also moments where these contrasts start to bleed through. On page 124, the sickly water buffalo rummage through trash next to the sewage lake, to which the slumlord Robert uses Garnier Nutrisse Hair Dye on the horses. The mention of the “brand” next to the garbage sewer lake is a potent model of the “modern” world that seems to be bustling and growing only a street over.
    Lastly, as I’m sure will be the focus of how this book is working with craft, is Boo as a narrator. Though there are obvious moments where she is purposely structuring these narratives and using her own voice and style to paint pictures of scenes and events, there is no “I” throughout the book. There are no direct reflections, though she uses moments like page 95, “No onlooker asked, ‘Why fix a house when the airport authority might demolish it?’” to insert her own thoughts on a situation. In this case, Boo takes a moment to not offer what she was thinking with Kehkashan’s house, but rather, what someone may have been thinking. Because she was so distant from the text, I wish the Author’s Note would’ve came at the beginning of the book. Chapter 17 and the Author’s Note seemed to wrap up a lot of the questions I was having about intention and who was actually narrating these stories. The photographic stories of Behind the Beautiful Forevers worked in terms of highlighting these injustices, but I’m missing Katherine Boo as a character coming into this place. (Though, I’m not sure which extreme in journalism is the best, ethically.)

    (I’m over 500 words, so some more questions (some for Katherine Boo herself) ):

    Who was her audience? While reading the author’s note, Boo writes that the story of Annawadi is not representative of a country as large as India, nor is it an encapsulation of the current state of poverty. If not those things, what is it a commentary of, if at all, and for who?

    Though there are a few paragraphs explaining the translators Boo had at the end, where there any moments where there were certain things being said that were difficult to translate over? (Like Lola’s House?)

    How is technology working in the text? I am interested in the mention of things like Photoshop in “Marquee Effect” and the attempted suicide over a cellphone.

    Where is the line between standard journalism and narrative nonfiction?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great questions. I hope you will especially ask the one about who her audience is. And the question about translation is a good one too as I imagine there were issues of translation.

    I agree that the number of characters made the narrative difficult to follow initially. The book started out somewhat slow for me because of that, but as I became more familiar with the cast of characters and the place, the pace quickened and my interest grew.

    I’d love for us to talk about the what the line might be between “standard journalism” and narrative nonfiction. What might be an example of standard journalism?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. (I’m going to blow past the 500 words a bit here and I apologize in advance.)

    I think as the weeks progress in this class I am learning more and more about how diverse the ways to write nonfiction actually are. One thing that immediately comes to mind is to compare Behind the Beautiful Forevers to Evalina Galang’s Lola’s House. Both books take extraordinary measures to give their subjects a powerfully authentic voice, but the authors go about this in drastically different ways. Galang gives the Lola’s their voice by literally translating their testimonies and allowing them to stand on their own. Boo gives the residents of Annawadi a voice through developing their character and allowing the reader insight into their thoughts/wants/needs. The second thing that strikes me is how neither book would work with the opposite form. Lola’s House couldn’t be written like Behind the Beautiful Forevers and vice versa.

    Others have mentioned this already, but one thing that stuck out to me immediately was Boo’s characterization of the Annawadi residents through third person POV and inner thoughts. Boo routinely does this throughout the book by either using rhetorical questions that are presumed to be in the speaker’s voice or directly stating what the person is thinking or what they want in that moment. For example, at the beginning of chapter 4 which opens with “the plot of this novel Mrs. Dalloway made no sense whatsoever to Manju,” (50). Consequently, this book felt a lot like a fiction piece to me, making the book very compelling to read and easier to for me to connect with these people. (In the author’s note Boo explicitly addresses how she came to her description of individuals thoughts which I appreciate and accept.)

    I have a limited knowledge of literary journalism, so I expected a book like this to contain very writing (similar to The Sixth Extinction Event by Elizabeth Kolbert). However, Boo is able to expertly and seamlessly integrate these factual “reporting” moments into the larger personal narrative of the Annawadi residents due to the pulled back POV. I found this to be very effective because I was never taken out of what was happening to the Annawadians which again allowed me to connect with their story more. In fact, it was so smooth that it wasn’t until I was halfway through part two that I realized there was any “reporting” going on at all.

    Katherine Boo structures Behind the Beautiful Forevers into a prologue and four distinct parts. Overall, the structure was very effective for me, with each chapter contributing in some way to the larger theme of the section and the quote at the front. For example, the citizens of Annawadi are consistently undermined, glossed over treated as less than (undercitizens), they fight each other over petty things to get ahead in a broken system (the business of burning), as a result of their circumstances they commit suicide or are killed (a little wildness) and their deaths have a minor impact and the world moves on to the next chapter or to repeat the cycle (up and out). I think structuring the book into four parts like this gives Boo’s book a powerful universal message that might not be there if it was not structured into parts. The only structural choice I did not like was the prologue. It definitely draws the reader in, but it made me think Abdul was going to be the main person the reader followed, which is only somewhat true. In addition, I think it unfairly builds up Abdul’s storyline to have a bigger payoff, whereas by the time the reader gets to the trial, it’s almost a subplot to the daily turmoil of Annawadi as a whole.

    As an environmentalist, I love how Katherine Boo is able to convey a sense of place as well as detail how Annawadians (and India) interact with the environment throughout Behind the Beautiful Forevers. I had a general previous knowledge of the trash/discarded electronics problem in India and China, but nothing at detailed as this. Putting aside the most obvious fact that Annawadians make their living going scavenging trash and discarded material, Boo is able to build a sense of place through descriptions of the Indian monsoon season and its health effects; the Mithi River turning from swimming pool blue to black and reeking; the constant battle against roaches and rats (including the boils Sunil and his sister’s exploding with worms—which made me gag); to Manju using Tumeric to staunch the bleeding of a wound; to environmentalists objecting to the washing of elephant god idols. Furthermore, Boo is able to a single leaf as a symbol. Early on in the book tree leaves are described as being grey to match the dirty nature of Annawadi, and at the end of the book Abdul comes across a leaf which is still green and new (representing hope) and cuts it into small pieces with a rusty razor (conveying his disillusionment). For me at least there was a powerful climate change/reduce consumption activism message Boo was making as well.

    One element of this book that I am intrigued by is the young women in Annawadi feeling trapped and taking their lives like Meena. I recently heard a brief story on NPR about how the Me Too movement had finally reached India (at least in the higher castes) and some women reporters and Bollywood actors were coming and speaking out about their assaults and aren’t afraid of naming names. Boo spent three years in India from 2008 to 2011 and the paperback version of this book was published in 2014. I’m just curious about what it is like for women, particularly lower caste women living in slums like Annawadi and in rural India. I want to know if anything has changed or—I just want to know more. Even though I have a feeling it’s pretty much the same.

    Q: for some of the characters who play a smaller role, how did she choose which action to include that she felt would accurately portray something about their character in a short amount of space?
    Q: Was the distance in this book strictly because of her unfamiliarity with India and being non-Indian? Would she write another book in this manner?
    Q: I personally like that she paraphrases these people’s thoughts before presenting them to the reader, but is that a choice she struggled with?
    Q: Is this book perhaps too entertaining? As the reader we are on this journey with the Annawadi residents, but despite wanting better lives they’re acclimated to this slum, so we acclimate to it. I don’t know it’s by no means romanticized, but they do live next to a sewage lake. I’m just wondering what this book would look like if it was written differently, if perhaps Katherine Boo played more of a role in it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Excellent questions, especially first three. You also give us a very good analysis of the structure of the book as well as her use of sense of place. I was glad to see that you also caught some of the potential symbolism of the book (the leaves, for example). It is purposely subtle, I think, but gives the book much more depth.

      I wonder what you see as the arc of the book. It would be useful for us all to talk about how to construct an arc from a project like this. I’m sure she had hundreds of notes, conversations and observations to transcribe and collate. She must have had a sense of how she wanted to shape the story. I’d love to ask her a question about that.


  6. (I’m going to be drawing from some of the ideas others have already presented at the time of my writing this to help organize all the thoughts I have about this book in a way that makes up for the fact that we’re not having a formal class meeting/discussion this week.)

    When I read Maddy’s comment about believing this was the first time she had read a book like “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo, I was having the same thought. However, this thought brought some turmoil into my relationship to this book because I just kept thinking to myself (and saying to my boyfriend when he asked how my reading was coming along) that I’m just not a big fan of literary journalism. I was struggling to come up with a reason for this feeling until I remembered having read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair, the only book I have been unable to finish or really understand no matter how hard I tried, in high school. I am happy to say that I don’t have the same relationship with this book as I do with “The Jungle.” What I will say is this: I’m still not a big fan of literary journalism, but I am able to understand more of the craft choices made in writing this book.

    First and foremost, I understand and am amazed by the objectivity Boo brings to her writing in this book. Similarly to Holly, I studied Journalism as my minor in undergrad, and I also noticed the way Boo sticks to the facts when telling the story of Annawadi and its citizens. However, I noticed more “creative” traits accompanied this. In particular, I felt that Boo relied heavily on carnal details, especially smell and sound, to help the reader to place themselves in Annawadi, and this worked really well. I feel as if Boo’s development of the slum as a character itself might have helped her to keep herself out of the story. (Although, this could just be me assuming such is true because that’s how I would have to do it.) I’m very interested in talking to her about this on Monday. In any case, I also noticed that the setting became a living breathing character itself (Thanks for the perfect wording for this, Holly.), and this is something I hope I can achieve half as well in my own writing.

    While this technique worked well for Annawadi itself, I can’t say that this objectivity worked (for me at least) as well for the people. Though, I understand the need for journalistic observations to be presented objectively and for journalists to present the facts and nothing more, I felt that I was missing some sort of authorial/narrator connection to the story. Because of my feelings and what I personally wanted to get out of reading this book, one thing that Holly mentioned that I seemed to have a differing opinion about was the use of an individual and human component to keep the reader interested. Even with this component, I personally felt that the writing was still too cut and dry, and I found myself having to pull my mind back into the text or convince myself that I still cared. Maddy mentioned being confused about the jumping around from person to person in the first part of the book, and I think this is actually where the human component fell flat for me. Taking ~80 pages of (mostly) straight characterization after the prologue, which was fairly fast-paced and included some good scenes didn’t work for me. I got by on trusting Boo’s indication that each of these people must be important—and therefore, knowing more about them must be important—to the story, but being told about them in such detail without a whole lot of action (without the showing) allowed the fire the prologue had ignited to dwindle. **I’m already over the word count by now**

    Moving forward, Boo began to prove to me that my trust in her was worth something. I did find that spending so much time letting me get to know these people as characters served a purpose; however, I still wondered if there was a way this character development could have been done through scene and dialogue. And, if so, why hadn’t Boo used that approach? I’m interested to hear her talk about these people in person because I’d like to see if there are differences in the way she writes about them and the way she speaks about them. I want to know why, aside from the need for a translator, she didn’t include more dialogue because I felt that the dialogue that was included was really strong. (It also helped the reading move faster, so that I didn’t feel so stuck in long passages all the time.)

    As I continued reading, I found myself getting distracted by the omniscience that Rachel mentioned. How could Boo have come to know all of the innermost thoughts and feelings of these people when she was able to give us so little scene and dialogue? I could feel the trust wiggling out of my grasp, and I started thinking about the point Karen was making in class last week about this same thing. With “Writing my Wrongs,” I didn’t see the same issues Karen spoke about, but this week I felt I was drowning in them. Around page 90 (which is pretty early, in my opinion), I was flipping to the back of the book to see if Boo explained herself in the author’s note. On page, 250 she explains that, “when [she] sought to grasp, retrospectively, a person’s thinking at a given moment, or when [she] had to do some repeated interviews in order to understand the complexity of someone’s views—very often the case—[she] used paraphrase.” She goes on to talk about how she meticulously interviewed and re-interviewed and fact checked, and suddenly, my concerns were fading. I wonder how many other readers (not just in our class) struggled with accepting that Boo could know all these things. How might my (our) opinions have changed if the author’s note were before the text? (Additionally, how might our views have changed knowing before reading the book that Boo had married an Indian man?) Explaining the nature of the research and the reasons for writing the story a certain way seemed to work really well for Galang with “Lolas’ House,” so why didn’t Boo do this?

    **Some more things I noticed and didn’t already write about before I realized I was over my word count**
    • The (sometimes) comedic tone of voice Boo has throughout the book. Ex: “He liked frogs, and in pursuit of them sometimes swam the sewage lake. No one liked to sleep next to him after he did that” (85). It didn’t feel like this was in an effort to lighten the mood; it felt more like this was done in an effort to show these people as human when much of the media surrounding poverty, especially in other countries, can be so dehumanizing.
    • The decision to latch onto specific people/families to tell their individual stories rather than telling a more general story of everyone or only the story of one person and their family. I assume the decision to tell multiple stories was a conscious one aimed at broadening the audience’s already-developed ideas and assumptions about poverty, specifically in an Indian slum(s).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I enjoyed your taking us through your complex response to this book. It might be useful for those who aren’t drawn to literary journalism to think about why. And also to think about why literary journalists might not be drawn to personal narrative. We are already reading a sufficient number of books in this class, but if we had more time I might assign David Carr’s The Night of the Gun:

      Carr is a journalist who finds himself writing about his own life. Even though it’s a personal narrative of sorts, it’s filled with the kind of things you’d find in literary journalism, especially a reporter’s perspective and is thus a kind of hybrid, more so than Lola’s house.

      What makes this kind of journalism hard for some to read? How might it work as a film?


  7. Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers is an interesting change of pace from the previous books we’ve read this semester. While the book takes us a literal world away from the earlier spaces and landscapes, the most noted change for me was the delivery. Starting straight from the prologue, Boo has a way of dropping the reader into the action, into the world of her not-quite-characters. Yes, I’ll admit that they are characters, because although Boo can covey to the reader an image of the individuals Abdul, Fatima, and Zehrunisa, the image is only Boo’s characterization. (To a certain extent, the characterization is even a construction of the people Boo writes about themselves.)

    The book feels like fiction, a novel spun from a writer who has spent a lifetime living in the same small town, able to conjure a place, characters, and dialogue that is familiar to them. In Chapter 5 “Ghost House,” Boo describes Fatima “The One Leg” in a manner that makes her seem familiar even if one did not live in the slums of Annawadi. The language describing Fatima is vibrant, how her “sexual need [was] as blatant as her lipstick,” and how “her affairs might have been a scandal; that she was disabled made them a joke” (Boo 71). However, there’s a level of distance between the “character” of Fatima and the narrator. You feel the detachment. This narrator is not someone who lives in the slum. The narrator is not one of them.

    The detachment and distance of the narrator from the individuals whose story is being told contributes to the feel of the book. I looked for Boo in the book, only to find a phantom who feels almost omniscient in her narration. Boo seems the most comfortable in Abdul’s head. Towards then end of “Parrots, Caught and Sold”, Abdul makes a decision to stop selling stolen items, which he shares with his mother. Boo “tells” the reader that Abdul hoped his mother was listening when he shared his decision, as she “seemed half absent in her exhaustion” and “definitely hadn’t been listening later” (Boo 163). While this isn’t presented in first person internal monologue, it is presented as Abdul’s thoughts, not that of the author.

    Boo discussed her writing process in the Toronto Star in 2013. She said that she would sometimes write immediately after speaking with one of the residents of Annawadi, and that she always video or voice recorded, which accounts for the attention to detail. This made me think of Lola’s House, and the similar technology that M. Evelina Galang used to document the stories of the Lolas. These books, though both forms of literary journalism (maybe Lola’s House to a lesser degree) can’t be more different in delivery, and I think this is because both writers are trying to accomplish different goals. While the experience that tied the Lolas together ended, the experience of the people living in Annawadi continues on. By writing a book that deposits the reader into the slum, Boo forces her readers to acknowledge the conditions in which we allow a segment of our population to live.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your last sentence strikes me as incredibly important. Boo has spoken in other interviews about how so many of us think we know so much, even reporters, but in the case of the Mumbai slum, no one, before her book, had “embedded knowledge.” We don’t spend enough time listening, she says, and we need to “drop-kick” our imbedded stereotypes about poverty. Her book was an attempt to do that.


  8. Renee’ Drummond-Brown
    behind the beautiful forevers by: Author Katherine

    Author Katherine Boo’s book “behind the beautiful forevers” is written from a place in Mumbai. This area is a slum. The journalist skillfully uses her voice to draw the reader into her storyline which encompasses poverty-stricken people without sewerage and running water. This book defines Self-preservation as the law of the land.
    On page #5, the author brilliantly depicts the nature of imagery of deteriorated infrastructure inhabited by improvised people. She writes:
    “Every house was off-kilter, so less off kilter looked like straight. Sewage and sickness looked like life.”
    The author’s journalistic approach took me on a visual account of a complex realism in order to create a better understanding of the environment within her storylines. However, I must admit that this was an extremely hard read for me and often times I got lost in terms of moving in and out of locations (space) within this book.
    Throughout her book she braids economics within their perspective social classes and expertly portrays to the reader the meaning of poverty. On page #6 the author’s craft of imagery skillfully paints us this picture:
    “A few residents trapped rats and frogs and fried them for dinner. A few ate the scrub grass at the sewage lakes edge.”
    The author shows us that poverty breeds destruction, disease, mental anguish and hopelessness when she writes about Abdul’s little sisters playing:
    “His little sisters were playing with the One’s Leg’s daughters on a wheelchair, a cracked plastic lawn chair flanked by rusted bicycle wheels…”
    Her writings are centrally focused on life death and hope but she specifically writes about Sunils because of their endurance and stick-to-itiveness mentality. The author uses her skilled journalistic techniques and remains impartial when depicting the haves and the have nots within her book. However, it is important to note that the have nots in her storyline are trying to uplift themselves from their horrific conditions.
    It is my understanding that the beautiful and forever separates the prosperous area from the slums. The author confirms:
    “It was orange blossoms compared with the rotting hotel food dumped nightly at Annawadi, which sustained three hundred shit-caked pigs”
    The author did a fantastic job in showing the division between the two worlds. Her writings are centrally oriented and strong, however, I personally just could not connect to the story because of the shifting of the characters. It was difficult for me to differentiate the names of the characters in relation to their perspective cities.

    1. Does anyone feel that her research as a Journalist added credibility to this book?
    2. I would like to know what audience this book was written for?
    3. Some of us seem to have had the same experience with the difficulty of this book’s flow (moving in and out). Was there anything that the author could have done different in her craft to have made this book flow much better?
    4. Does anyone believe that this nonfiction book will change the actions of the people that she chose to write about?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d love for those of you who had trouble following the book to be super specific about why and what might have made it easier to follow. Certainly if she had focused on only one character it might have been much easier to follow. She argues in one interview, though, that to follow the most “righteous” or “interesting” character is to give a false sense of what a situation really is. You have to look at the community, she argues, to get a true sense of the poverty she wants to examine.

      I think the writing was more difficult in the beginning of the book because of the huge cast of characters; I also felt this with Game of Thrones and War and Peace, but I appreciate the reason why she focused on community. It may be that this is a book that needs to be read at least twice: once to get your bearings in the community, and second to read it as someone who is familiar with the characters. I wonder if it would have helped had she had a list of characters and who there are in the beginning, as one sometimes finds in plays.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dr. Sheryl St Germain, I will definitely read this book again. Thank you for all of the wonderful feedback that you give to our class. It helps to guide my critical thinking and provides for me thoughts to wrestle with. Respectfully submitted, Renee’.


  9. Hello Class! Sorry for the delay. I was sick. To make up for missing yesterday’s deadline, and because you all pretty much said everything that should/could have been said, I tried something a little different with my post… Enjoy!

    In Cuba, a Cuba Libre drink is better known as Una Mentirita, which in English translates to “a little lie.” Order a Cuba Libre while in Cuba and patrons will correct you with a smile. There is no free Cuba as long as the communist regime remains. A muffled laugh escapes their lips because they’re drunk on Cuban rum, but also because there is no point in being anything else than content with what you have and figuring out the rest as you go. As a young girl, I traveled to Cuba every summer. To date, I’ve been to Cuba a total of ten times.

    The first time I visited, I was nine years old. I was immediately impressed by the people. I understood that there was mass poverty, lack of many freedoms, and gross injustices happening throughout the island. And yet, the people stood out the most. Their stories accompanied me on the short plane ride home after every visit and kept me company for months, until I found myself in their tropical embrace once again.

    As a teenager, I often dreamt of telling others about my Cuba; an island filled with trained doctors driving bici-taxis, uneducated farmers using a combination of ojas and spirituality to treat the sick, and engineers rigging electric poles to bypass the apagones—a tactic used by the government to maintain crowd control at night. Even then—when I created list upon list of all the stories I would write—it only seemed natural to use these characters as a means to highlight the endemic results of a 60 year-old regime. Perhaps this was partly due to my journalism background. After all, when these ideas filled my waking dreams, I was Managing Editor of The Record, the Hialeah Senior High school newspaper. Just like Katherine Boo in Behind the Beautiful Forevers, I understood that the human interest angle was how one captured AND maintained a readers’ attention for a prolonged period of time.

    This is what makes Boo’s first book so successful; it’s a story about people. The effects of poverty on an individual, as a result of broad systemic issues commonly found in poor communities, is easier to grasp through Boo’s skillful use of characterization. By highlighting the profound and juxtaposed inequalities in Mumbai, through the lives of the Annawadi residents, Boo manages to minimize the distance between reader and news story. By avoiding the traps commonly found in more traditional journalistic writing, one cannot help but to be drawn into the vivid scenes, powerful dialogue and relatable characters. Boo masterfully leverages craft elements usually reserved for fiction, effectively.

    The more powerful tool, which others have mentioned, is the lack of “I” throughout the book. This was refreshing, as it allowed me to stay in the scenes uninterrupted. In Lola’s House, Galang uses her own personal narrative as a way to cushion the many harrowing tales of sexual trauma, but it was still a little off-putting to this reader. Not explicitly seeing or hearing Boo throughout the book, made me feel more engaged with the story. Also, who else saw a little of them in Fatima? No? Just me? Fine.

    I didn’t think I would enjoy a book considered literary journalism, but Boo did a magnificent job of proving me wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s